Greg Bartram and Brian Phillips Have Your USA v Belgium Preview

Click here for previous World Cup coverage from Brian and Greg.


Colin G, 1) To these amateur eyes, Germany at times appeared to be toying with us. Are they that good, did we not play well, or am I just completely wrong?

GB) Well, both on paper and on the pitch, Germany are ranked higher, and have they better team. They played better for longer stretches, but let’s not forget that the US had several fantastic opportunities to score and simply couldn’t close the deal. The US were definitely the more ‘leggy’ team (futbol talk).

The US lost 1-0 to the second-ranked team in the entire tournament, and after sucking wind at the beginning, put together some very strong stretches.

One other thing to keep in mind, as we’ve talked about the distance travelled several times, is that only one team has won their first match after playing in Manaus, the farthest-flung stadium, and the place the US played Portugal, and Germany had a day’s more recovery than the USMNT had. How much does that make a difference? Well, Michael Bradley’s averaging nearly 8 miles run per game. An extra day’s recovery after that would seem to make a difference after that.

 BP)  I was disappointed we didn't come at them more. If Germany has a weakness it's in the back and the U.S. wasn't as interested in attacking as I had hoped we would be. Germany on the other hand can play it most any way you like. They're Germany, but they can be beaten.

2) On to the knockout round where even my ten year old son is sweating Belgium, "Oh no Dad, we have to play Belgium. They are awesome" I'm not used to hearing awesome and Belgium in the same sentence. What do they bring to the table and more importantly, what language do they speak anyway?

GB) Well, first off…either Flemish (punchlines abound), Dutch, or French.

Now then…Belgium has won all three matches so far, so on paper, they’re firing on all cylinders. For the last match, they made seven changes to the lineup…was it to rest players, was it because there are minor injuries, or was it tactical? We won’t know more until we see their lineup for the match against the USA. They do have an injury or two that may change things.

I cannot think of Belgium without remembering the Monty Python sketch “Prejudice.” It’s on YouTube, y’all…go find it.

BP) Much is being made of Belgium defeating the U.S. 4-2 in a friendly recently. Are you concerned when your NFL team gets throttled in a pre-season game? I suppose, but not that much. This is the playoffs if you will. A different animal entirely.

Belgium has a great young goalkeeper in Thimbaut Courtois and only surrendered one goal in the group stage. That said they are beat up. Captain and central defender Vincent Kompany has a bum groin and may not even be able to go. Defender Thomas Vermaelen (hamstring) is in the same boat. Anthony Vanden Borre (cracked fibula), and Laurent Ciman (abductor strain) have already been ruled out for the match. Belgium will likely have to start a midfielder or two in the back. This is great news for the U.S. With four goals in three group stage matches it's not like Belgium has lit the world on fire. The big question in my mind will be: With all the injuries in the back will they decide to go harder at the goal to get up early? We'll find out.

3) What does team USA need to do to win this game? Who needs to step up and what would spell trouble?

GB) Belgium’s built to be an attacking team. The US defenders will need to be as solid as they’ve been so far, and stay smart about the defensive shape. Michael Bradley needs better touches in the attacking end, because he’s had miscues that have cost shot attempts. He needs to find his game again.

Tim Howard just needs to keep being Tim Howard. That guy stands as the US MVP in my mind.

Jozy Altidore may be back for the US, which will make the tactical lineup interesting. Do you put him up top to start, or stay with similar starters to the last few matches? Do you save him for a late sub if needed to be sure he’s fresh, and give him a tired Belgian defense to go after? I don’t think you start him, because if he’s comeback a bit too soon, you risk using a substitution too early (again).

BP) Attack! An early goal was everything in the Ghana match. We need to force Belgium to come out of their shell a bit. We can't "park the bus" and expect to snipe an odd goal on the counter. The U.S. must take the game to them. 

I'm sounding like a broken record here, but midfielder Michael Bradley has to play a whole lot better. The sloppy touches have to stop. The game must flow crispy through him on the attack. It would be nice to at least be able to bring striker Jozy Altadore (hamstring) off the bench. I doubt he has enough to start them game. 

4) As tough as our group was, it seems any wins from here out would be icing on the cake. Is that a fair assumption or is this team equipped to make a deeper run? What is a realistic best case scenario? 

GB) Pretty clearly, the US beat a Ghana side that outplayed them. They’ve made believers out of themselves and others. Let’s not forget that an awful lot of quality nations are done…Spain and Italy come to mind. Once you’re in the round of 16, anything’s possible.

BP) Many are bothered by only one win in group stage, but calling it the group of death was not hyperbole. The U.S. vanquished their Cup Kryptonite in Ghana, played a hell of a game against Portugal, and it's not like Germany throttled the us. There are many positives. I won't be shocked if we beat Belgium. I won't be shocked if we don't. I like going into a match feeling like the U.S. can make things happen, rather than hoping for luck. The United State's reward should they beat Belgium is a likely quarter final against Argentina. That's probably where it ends.
5) If my son bit somebody during a sporting event I wouldn't complain about the length of his suspension.  I thought that sort of behavior get ironed out in pre-school. Should the entire country of Urugruay be put in "time-out" until the World Cup is complete or is the penalty too harsh?

GB) Uruguay are built around Suarez. His on-field talent is undeniable…

…but so is the fact that there’s a mis-wired switch somewhere in that futbol noggin of his. How you do that after already having been suspended twice for it, and do that on the biggest stage in the game is beyond me. I think it’s a crime that nothing was done immediately. Italy gets scored on a minute later, but Uruguay should have been down to 10 players. Uruguay shouldn’t be in the round of 16, so my new 3rd favorite team (behind the US and Costa Rica) is Whoever Plays Uruguay.

Just a few interesting figures in closing…USA-Germany ranked higher online viewing that any Super Bowl Ever. Would it be different if the Super Bowl were played on a Thursday at noon? Of course, but nevertheless, that’s a pretty big number. The network broadcast of USA-Portugal rated higher than any game in the World Series.

The task for US Soccer and MLS now is to find a way to keep some of that momentum for the league here.

BP) The penalty fit the crime. Suarez has been nailed for biting twice before. He likely needs intense psychotherapy.